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Shanghai – The low down on the latest tech stories
Shanghai – The low down on the latest tech stories
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Apr 2010   |  6:04 pm GMT  |  57 comments

The Chinese Grand Prix is the fourth race in six weeks, all of which have been in long-haul destinations. But in the two weeks since Malaysia, some teams have been able to produce a host of technical updates to the cars, while others are saving up their work for one substantial upgrade in Barcelona in three weeks time.

Here, in layman’s terms, is a look at some of the tech stories from this weekend in Shanghai.

Shanghai has gone F duct crazy

The rear wing concept known as the “F-duct” or “drag-reducing rear wing”, pioneered this season by McLaren, has really caught on now and three other teams are running with their own version of it this weekend in Shanghai. Sauber, Ferrari and Mercedes are all chasing those vital three to four tenths of a second it brings.

Meanwhile a fourth, Williams, have the parts to run their version but they are currently in transit to Shanghai.

The drag reducing rear wing is one of those classic F1 tech stories, where someone makes a breakthrough, everyone questions its legality, then is forced to copy it so it ends up with the competitive advantage being neutralised because they’ve all got them. In the mean time McLaren will enjoy an advantage, which has certainly helped Lewis Hamilton in particular, make plenty of great overtaking moves thanks to his extra speed on the straights.

Sauber introduced theirs in Melbourne (left). It takes air from an inlet duct on the left sidepod and channels it down the fin to the rear wing. Mercedes tried one today, which takes the air from a small hole in the monocoque, previously used for ventilation.

Ferrari have the long fin fitted to the rear wing, down which the air passes, which then exits through a slot in the rear of the wing. It is fitted only to Alonso’s car, but we are told that they have not been able to work on it today, due to the loss of Alonso’s engine in first practice and the need to work through other programmes in the time available this afternoon. Interestingly the Ferrari was still only 1 km/h slower on the straight than the McLaren today at 311km/h.

Interestingly Ferrari’s air intake is above the driver’s head, at the side of the fin. The clever part of these wings is that they are only switched on when needed – ie on the straight, so the question arises of how Ferrari’s drivers will activate the switch, possibly with some hand control which pipes air down the fin.

McLaren invented the idea of blowing air out of a narrow slot the back of the wing (left) to separate the airflow which passes underneath and behind the wing, in order to separate that airflow, which normally causes drag. By doing so, they shed drag and get a straight line speed advantage of around 5 to 6km/h. On a circuit with a long straight, like Shanghai, that can be a significant advantage, up to four tenths of a second.

Although everyone is rushing to copy it, McLaren Engineering Director Paddy Lowe said this week that his staff have already reached all the benefit you can get from this technology, it is certainly not a technology which has much more to come from it.

The great ride height debate

Another major technical talking point which has dominated the first few races is the legality of adjustable ride heights to allow the car to run low to the ground in qualifying, but then raise up by as much as 3mm before the race, to allow for the extra 160 kilos of fuel weight. Rival engineers suspect that Red Bull has such a system, but the team has strenuously denied it. After the last race in Malaysia, the FIA issued a clarification stating that “Any system device or procedure, the purpose and/or effect of which is to change the set-up of the suspension, while the car is under parc ferme conditions will be deemed to contravene art 34.5 of the sporting regulations.”

Any change to the suspension in parc ferme (which is between qualifying and the start of the race) means that the driver must start from the pit lane. Other teams have worked on systems which attempt to find a loophole in this rule. One team invented a system which quietly rose up by 3mm in the garage all by itself during the night, but decided not to run it on the car this year because of legality concerns.

You can see why the teams would want to do it. It’s potentially worth 3 or 4 tenths of a second per lap in qualifying and the engineers tell me that they have worked out that every 1/10th of performance you gain in qualifying is worth 4/10ths in the race, because it gives you better track position. The no-refueling rule has stretched the value of grid position to such an extent, because it is so hard to overtake now in the race without refueling strategy.

Renault gets stabilised

Renault have had two strong races in a row and Robert Kubica is only nine points off the championship lead, mainly thanks to a pair of fantastic starts in Melbourne, where he went from 9th to 4th and Malaysia, where he went from 6th to 4th.

However there is more to it than that. The Pole’s lap times from the first race in Bahrain and the ones which followed in Australia and Malaysia show a strong development from Renault, as they move closer to the pace of the front runners.

Bahrain – Quali = – 1.7 secs (slower than fastest lap)
Race = – 2 secs

Melbourne – Quali = – 1.3 secs
Race = – 1.2 secs

Race = – 1 sec. ( Quali was wet)

The team is catching up after a tough winter with uncertainty over its future, before it was bought in December by internet entrepreneur Gerard Lopes.

The car showed modest pace in pre-season testing and in Bahrain, but took a step forward in Australia, thanks partly to a new front wing (pictured left).

And in China they have come along with a further front wing update. Kubica used it in second practice and said afterwards that it “improved the front-end stability.”

They have also brought a new floor, but he says that this hasn’t proved its worth in practice today and it is to be taken off the car.

Compare this with the photo above. A lot of work has gone into the curvature of the upper front element and particularly into the detailing of the end plates. The new ones feature (1) a shorter and less vertical fin than the Melbourne wing and (2) a squarer end to the upper element.

As we explained last time, the front wing has a bigger effect on the overall aerodynamics of the car under the current rules than previous rules, and the “outwash” wings replicate some of the work channeling dirty air away from the back of the car, done previously by the bargeboards which sat behind the front wheels. The front wing is not just about creating downforce to stick the front of the car to the track, it is about channeling air to the floor and to the diffuser and helping the overall downforce level of the car.

Here what we are seeing, according to F1 engineers canvassed for this article, is a wing development which is not primarily about adding front downforce, but rather is about cleaning up flow to the rest of the car and crucially, adding stability when the front wheels are turning through a corner. These tiny details on the front wing are working for that and it seems to be working.

Sharp braking

The 3.3km Shanghai circuit is quite hard on brakes. According to brake manufacturer Brembo, 13% of the lap time is spent braking. Although the track features 16 corners, there are just eight braking events per lap, the harshest being at the end of the long straight for Turn 14, where the cars decelerate from 313km/h to 73 km/h in three seconds – a braking distance of only 140 metres.

The drivers also dab the brakes for 0.8 of a second into Turn 1, a similar amount for Turn 3, then shed 200km/h in 2.6 seconds at Turn 6. They give them the smallest of dabs in the 212km/h Turn 8 and another longer dab at Turn 9. Then comes the all important set up for Turn 13, which starts with braking for Turn 11, from 278km/h to 93km/h.

After the big stop for Turn 14, there is a tricky little stab on the brakes in the final corner onto the pit straight, lasting 0.8 sec, to get the car down from 249km/h to 177 km/h.

Brembo supplies six teams with brakes; Ferrari, Mercedes, Sauber, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Hispania.

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Nice piece James.

couple of things;

Boo Boo Foo- I’ve read that cfd doesn’t work well on front wing design because of the sheer complexity of the air flow in this area.

I agree about the look of the current F1 cars.I think they’ve looked pretty ordinary since the mid 90’s. Give me the beauty of a Lotus 49 or 72 or 78 any day. The FIA need to get the fancy pants aero off the cars and give them more mechanical grip. Those wind tunnels are also incredibly expensive to own and operate.

Matt – re third party suppliers. Red Bull use Multimatic dampers. There’s a good description of their operation on the company’s website.


Did the FIA measure the ride height of any cars after Q3, with an eye on taking the same measurements tomorrow before and after refueling?


Great graphics too,week in and week out.Catches those F1 endplate nuances perfectly.


Great article James,thanks.


It’s funny how other teams are now trying to copy McLaren’s F-duct in a rather crude and simple way.

I’ve read that McLaren’s F-duct works by getting the mass flow from the top half of the airbox inlet, and this airflow is then directed to a hollow chamber just above the engine. This chamber has 2 outlets, one to the rear wing and the other to an exit just above the diffuser.

The F-duct in the cockpit is the control airflow. When the hole is closed, the control airflow reaches the chamber and gives a pulse of pressure, causing the mass flow to change direction from it’s default outlet above the diffuser to the rear wing outlet.

When the cock-pit hole is opened, the control air simply ‘cools’ the driver and the mass flow in the chamber reverts back to the outlet above the diffuser. This is how it is controlled.

This is called a Fluidic Switch, or a Fluidic duct. Hence the name F-duct. Search ‘Fluidic amplifier’ on wikipedia and you’ll see a very simple diagram of the whole system.

So you see, this system is very very complex. Apparently, according to various internet forums, McLaren discovered this by accident when they were trying to solve the rear-wing stalling issue of last year’s MP4-24. Come to think of it, although the MP4-24 was a dog in the corners, it was very fast in a straight line wasn’t it? (even allowing for the effect of KERS)


A fluidic switch is one of the simplest devices and would only be used for amplification. I don’t even believe McLaren need a fluidic switch, others without the ability to build everything into the cockpit may well require it.


Yes I wrote about Fluidics in the Tech Report in Australia


actually, here’s the link to the diagram.


James, any idea on when Red Bull will get their f-duct system sorted out?

Now that 3 out of the top 4 teams have some form it running, they may fall behind in the race (not so much in qualifying).


Just comparing the recent photos of the Renault and the Toro Rosso being lifted by a crane, their double-diffuser inlets are quite different.

If the Toro Rosso inlet is similar to the Red Bull (highly likely, in my humble opinion), then I could definitely see why it would be far less ride-height sensitive.

The Toro Rosso uses an intake for the double diffuser that resembles a scoop:

The Renault double has four slits, two on either side of the plank, seemingly drawing air from the outer part of the floor (which is raised above the plank).

Contrastingly, the Red Bull and Toro Rosso use the scoop, and since the scoop extends down to the level of the plank, it can also draw air from under the plank. If they can successfully accelerate the air that is in the volume under the plank (thus dropping the pressure), then much more downforce can be created.

Beyond that, when the car is raised 3 mm in qualifying, the raised section of the floor is much less efficient, and if they are the only team that is able to successfully make the underside of the plank a low pressure zone, they will have a tremendous advantage over the cars that cannot specifically target that area for downforce.

This could help explain why they have such an advantage at the moment, and also why the design would not as ride-height sensitive.


So I’m seeing holes in the plank. Is that legit? I guess so.

So maybe their car doesn’t “raise” it self afterwards, maybe it sucks itself downwards during qualifying or whenever the driver puts his knee on the vent.


Excellent analysis there Malcolm. Nice find on the underbody photo too.

Kind Regards, Ive.


Excellent article James.

Seems like McLaren’s f-duct lets them run slightly more downforce. Although wouldn’t it be better to have top speed so they can overtake or keep from being overtaken.


Great article, James. Just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the Red Bull’s ride height adjustment but nobody’s has said definitively whether they have a system or not. They say they don’t, others say they do. Regardless of how it is being achieved, are they achieving it?


Hi James, just thought I would point out that the gap between Renault and the fastest cars at Bahrain and then at Melbourne and Malaysia is naturally going to close because Bahrain is more or less a Kilometre longer than the other 2 tracks. I do agree though that Renault seem to have moved forward slightly.


Quick clarification.. McLaren didn’t invent this technology. BMW Sauber used it last season if I am not mistaken.

What McLaren have invented (or put in another way.. decided to run the risk of exploiting a loophole) is the “movable” or “changable” part which is the duct and the driver control for it. The point is we saw blown rear wings last season.

Another thing is that the media has made a big fuss over them going into this race. No teams will be running their F ducts during the RACE this weekend. It’s all about testing them, as if we all remember, there is no inseason testing. They are developing them and gathering real world data about them. That’s all.

There is no “showdown of the F ducts” this weekend. In the next few races hopefully.

One other small thing – Ferrari’s top speeds were clearly due to playing with wing levels. The second session they added some more DF. Massa’s speeds were similar to Alonso, and he didn’t have any experiments rear wing parts.


There’s no denying these front wings are becoming increasingly sophisticated. But I shudder to think how much money is being spent perfecting all the little subtle winglets which are deflecting and refing vortices further down the length of the car. THe computational analysis being used in CFD systems must be costing a fortune!

That being said, I wish there some way these current crop of wings could be banned somehow. The 2010 F1 cars are arguably the ugliest F1 cars in the history of the sport – out doing even the godawful 6 wheel Tyrrel!


I used to think so also, but the 2010 cars are so much more intricate than the 09s that thay’ve grown on me. I actually consider the F10 good looking by itself, much better loking than the rest. The Macca is 2nd best looking, but still ugly. The F10 is the only PRETTY car scince 08.


Oh I agree with you on that score. The Ferrari is definitely the best looking car of the 2010 crop. Compared to the legendary 1989-1990 Ferrari however? I reckon that was the prettiest F1 car of all time, but that being said, I’m breaking my own rule now and getting opinion based, instead of fact based.

Interestingly, whatever it is about the 2010 aerodynamics, one thing which can’t be argued is that the rear half of the cars are amazingly clean now, aerodynamically speaking. Just 4 years ago there were little winglets everywhere – over the rear tyres, down by sides past the barge boards. The rear ends now are amazingly clean – especially the Williams.


Super article.


Williams, have the parts to run their version but they

are currently in transit to Shanghai.

Delayed by the no-fly ban across north europe, or simple bad planning?


definitely bad planning! they knew they wouldn’t want them to put on the car until after practice and quali….

try thinking a little more – it’s not like they would anticipate a total air traffic shut down in Europe!


More complicated than that.


It’s commented that Mercedes is also using the F-duct. Any ideas how they have done it?


Sorry James, may I mention off topic that Kimi was fifth fastest on the Super Special in Istambul and stands 8th overall 1.24 from S. Loeb. I think it worth it to mention. This guy is “crazy”. Sorry.


“Kimi was fifth fastest on the Super Special in Istambul and stands 8th overall 1.24 from S. Loeb.”

Now THAT is real racing, unlike the poofter circus that is F1

these days.

Go, KImi !!!


Haha poofter! Nice I haven’t heard that in a while. I hope Kimi returns in 2011 with Red Bull!


On a similar note, Will Power, Indycar championship leader lead first practice in Long Beach. And is chasing his 3rd pole in a row. Go Aussie F1 open wheel drivers!

And on another note, NBA playoffs start tommorow. Go Milwaukee Bucks!


sadly, success in rallying may make a return to F1 somewhat more remote….


Hi James,

The last paragraph got me thinking…

I’ve always wondered how much of the cars the teams make ‘in-house’, and how much they outsource (like the Brembo brakes).

Can you tell us? It’d also be really interesting to know who the different third-party suppliers are and who they supply.

Is it ever the case that a certain component brings a real advantage to the group of teams that use its supplier?


3mm = 0.4s per lap? Incredible. What is the ride height of modern F1 cars though?


Great article James, very interesting. Thanks!


Nothing worthy to add but absolutely loved this article. Thanks James


Does any body know what effect the F Duct has on the wake coming out of the back of the car and how it effects a following car – does it make a bigger hole for the following car which would increase “the tow” or does it adversely affect a following car ?


It doesn’t make any difference apparently, according to engineers


technically it does make a difference to the wake… but this difference is already at the height of the rear wing – and well above the front of a following car. Since the aero downforce all starts and is marshalled with the front wing the change has no apparent effect to a car behind.


“One team invented a system which quietly rose up by 3mm in the garage all by itself during the night, but decided not to run it on the car this year because of legality concerns.”

I wonder which one….


Out of the top dogs ..

It can’t be the red one because for sure because they would not worry about something like that. They know if they would away with it!

Can’t be Mclaren because they decided to abandon it just now, not RBR because they either don’t have it or have something that gets around the regulations regardless. So Mercedes ?


Interesting to see how Ferrari are beginning to favour only one driver! I wonder how Massa feels about Alonso getting the new toys and him having to wait. Does he feel like its poetic justice that Alonso engine failure meant he could not try it out?


Massa probably feels about the same way Kovaleinen did while he was at McLaren. Getting all the cool bits after his teammate. 🙂


They are only testing.


Seriously! What is with you Ferrari conspiracy people (obviously the same ones who worship alien abduction theories). The Ferrari F-duct doesn’t even work yet. Ferrari is making perfect sense testing the system prototype on one car while allowing the other car to test other set up options to cover all bases. If anything, Massa has the advantage. Ferrari can’t run the F-duct yet since it isn’t operational leaving Massa with the more race relevant info.


You may have noticed that the system was not even connected, they purely ran it to evaluate the basic aerodynamic performance of the new rear wing, anvil, etc. If anything, it was a disadvantage for Alonso not to be able to set up the car for the rear wing he’ll actually qualify and race with. But it’s not even that, as Massa surely has evaluated other new parts, since he was quoted explaining that Ferrari has also worked on various mid-term developments during FP1 and FP2.

It’s called being an F1 team and performing proper and professional development.


I see some teams have not moved their mirrors where they should be, I thought in China they needed to be closer to cockpit?


This was delayed to Spain.


Originally it was planned for China but teams complained and so it’s now Spain.

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